McNeese baseball fans who venture to Baton Rouge tonight to see the Cowboys take on LSU need to keep something in mind.
Well, first a pro tip: Take River Road as a parallel back way to get to Alex Box Stadium — Nicholson Drive is an under-construction mess once you get to campus. You can thank me later.
But once Cowboys fans do get there pay no mind to LSU fans.
They’ll feed you well without you asking and are generally an agreeable lot.
But they’ll probably also try feeding you the theory, long accepted, that in-state teams take these affairs much more seriously than the Tigers do, which explains why LSU just doesn’t just run roughshod through the midweek schedule with clearly the best team in this state and sometimes the hemisphere.
It makes a convenient excuse, for instance, as to why McNeese has won the last two meetings, including one in Baton Rouge.
The Tigers, this theory goes, have to keep their focus on the big fish in the SEC, and even that sometimes has trouble holding your attention when the ultimate goal is always to set up a summer outpost in Omaha.
Don’t listen to them.
Not this time.
Tonight, at least, this in-state matchup means more to the highand-mighty Tigers than it does to the upstart Cowboys.
Not by much. But enough.
Just say it won’t be a deal-breaker for either team.
But nothing McNeese does tonight, including beating LSU for a third consecutive season, is going to get the Cowboys into the NCAA Tournament.
At 22-26, the chance of earning an at-large bid to a regional has long since left the port.
But the 15-12 Southland Conference record isn’t so bad. Anyway, the Cowboys’ lone chance at the big postseason is to win the Southland Conference Tournament.
And that can’t happen tonight.
Meanwhile, LSU fans like to think that the in-state schools throw their best arms at them on Wednesdays while the Tigers audition new or rehabbing arms for the weekend — which just isn’t true. The state schools have their own important weekends to focus on.
Well, OK it sort of is true tonight.
McNeese will, in fact, throw a weekend pitcher in right-hander Tyler Wesley.
But it’s mostly to see if he can get back on track after getting roughed up in his most recent start last weekend.
Besides, McNeese has a nonconformance weekend upcoming against lightweight Prairie View.
So it makes sense. And he probably won’t pitch that long.
For that matter, LSU will also be starting a proven pitcher in Caleb Gilbert, but one who also needs to get back in form after a rugged couple of outings. LSU needs him for the stretch.
So let’s call the starting pitching decision a wash.
Still, it doesn’t change the fact that the game means more to LSU. Or should.
Usually by this time of year the Tigers are playing to secure one of the eight national seeds that smooths out that road to Omaha.
This isn’t a usual year.
The Tigers, at 28-20, are far from being assured of even getting a spot in the tournament. And they’d almost have to win out over the next three weeks to get the annual regional host role.
Right now they’ll take what they can get.
They think they turned things around and got geared up for another late-season surge by taking two of three last weekend against No. 4 Arkansas. But they thought the same thing after sweeping Tennessee three weeks ago — and promptly lost six of the next eight.
True, the Tigers seem to win the SEC Tournament (and the automatic bid) whether they want to or not most years. But with the state of the league this year, that seems like the longest of long shots.
Not to worry, there will be plenty of at-large bids for SEC teams. But also plenty of suitors.
The devilish part right now for LSU is the RPI — the tricky rating percentage index that nobody is sure how seriously the selection committee takes.
Head coach Paul Mainieri has no idea how it works (all I could tell him is that it involves math of some flavor).
“That RPI … I don’t know,” he said after Sunday’s win over the Razorbacks. “I can’t figure it out.”
He was mystified that LSU had beaten the No. 5 RPI team in Arkansas the night before and moved up one spot. And even after doing it again Sunday to win the weekend, LSU only moved up four spots, to No. 49.
That’s dicey for an at-large bid.
But Kendall Rogers, of the respected website D1Baseballcom, studies the RPI extensively and seems to have a better grasp of it than most.
“If they (the Tigers) get to 16 (SEC wins) and stay in the 40s (RPI), I feel confident they’d get in,” he Rogers wrote this week.
The Tigers are 12-12 in the SEC right now, so that means finishing 4-2 to finish the league.
So, yeah, the conference games might be more important right now.
But all the games count.
If a team is teetering as precariously on the edge, as LSU is, it can’t afford to assume any loss will be forgiven.
So, yes, incentive edge, LSU.
And don’t believe any differently.